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John E. Gibson

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Giants hold off Fighters in opener

by John E. Gibson (Nov 1, 2009)

The heart of the order went 1-for-12, but Yomiuri didn't miss a beat against Hokkaido Nippon Ham in Saturday's Game 1 of the Japan Series.

In fact, the ending sent hearts racing throughout Sapporo Dome.

The Giants got a homer and three hits from Yoshitomo Tani, who also scored three runs, and strong pitching to hold off the Fighters 4-3 before 46,650, snatching home-field advantage from the Fighters.

Yomiuri righty Dicky Gonzalez went 5-1/3 innings, allowing two runs on nine hits with no walks and three strikeouts to earn his first career postseason win.

Hayato Sakamoto broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning with a two-run double and Lee Seung Yeop drove in the insurance run with a pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh.

The Giants' shutdown bullpen kept the scoreboard clean until the ninth inning, with Tetsuya Yamaguchi going 1-1/3 and Daisuke Ochi tossing a perfect eighth to set up Marc Kroon, who raised blood pressures everywhere in the ninth.

The Fighters put the leadoff man on against Kroon, and Shinji Takahashi got them to within a run with a two-out double off the wall in center. Terrmel Sledge drew a walk to put the go-ahead run on first, but Kroon settled down enough to get Eiichi Koyano looking at strike three to close it out for the Giants.

"There's a unique atmosphere in the Japan Series and you never know how things will go," said Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara, who looked like his heart was still racing during the postgame interview.

"We did what we normally do in terms of scoring, putting up four runs, and our pitchers did a good job--it was a 4-3 score," Hara said of his Giants, who are trying to turn a third consecutive Central League title into their first Series championship since 2002.

"This is a new year and a new mountain we're trying to climb," Hara said when asked about residual feelings from last year's seven-game loss to the Seibu Lions.

"We have to come together as a team and got up the mountain."

Gonzalez was the first step in that climb, and he seemed to be dodging bullets all night.

"I'm just so happy," Gonzalez said about the victory. "Sledge hit the ball pretty good--he's got good power. The other hits were groundballs, so as long as they hit groundballs, I'm happy."

The Giants got the ball in the air early against Nippon Ham starter Masaru Takeda.

Tani, whose grand slam in the third inning of Game 5 of the Central League Climax Series effectively buried the Chunichi Dragons, jumped on a fastball on the inner half and drove it over the fence in left for a 1-0 lead in the second inning.

"I thought it was toward the end of the bat, but it felt good when I hit it," Tani said.

The Fighters came back in their half of the inning. Sledge got Nippon Ham even with a no-doubt-about-it solo shot to the seats in right. Sledge, who said he went into the at-bat planning to look at a few pitches, connected with a fastball that floated over the inner half of the plate.

It was the second postseason homer in as many at-bats for the second-year player, who also went deep in the PLCS Stage 2 clinching win over Tohoku Rakuten.

The Giants got back on top, though, on Sakamoto's double off the top of the wall in left. Tani and Shinnosuke Abe both singled to open the frame and with two outs, Sakamoto went down and got an offspeed pitch, nearly yanking it out of the park.

"We had a chance to score so I wanted to be aggressive at the plate," Sakamoto said. "I lost my balance a little, but I was looking for something offspeed and I was able to go down and get it and hit the ball in the air.

"I thought it a fly to right when I hit it, but the ball really carried well for me."

The Fighters came back with a run in the sixth. Sledge and Koyano both singled to open the inning. A failed sacrifice bunt attempt later, pinch-hitter--and former Giant--Tomohiro Nioka grounded a single through the left side off reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi to cut the Giants lead to 3-2.

But Tani's third hit of the game, a single to right off reliever Yoshinori Tateyama, ignited another rally to restore Yomiuri's two-run lead.

Lee's single up the middle off Shintaro Ejiri came after he was sent up to pinch-hit for pinch-hitter Noriyoshi Omichi after Nashida changed pitchers.

skipper Nashida brought in another former Giant, lefty Masanori Hayashi, who promptly gave up a single to Abe. The managers matched wits, Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara sending up Noriyoshi Omichi and then switching to Lee Seung Yeop after Nashida changed pitchers.

The Fighters took a blow to chin in that move, as Lee singled up the middle off Shintaro Ejiri to make it 4-2 Giants. Ejiri fanned Sakamoto with runners on second and third and one out, and escaped the inning by inducing a grounder from Matsumoto.


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